Hyundai crafts German-style hot hatch
Numerous nutso websites concur; in a blades-versusbullets contest, there’s no certainty firepower will always take the win.
GunsAmerica (no, really) will advocate five reasons in favour of carrying a carver over a Colt into a stoush. And even though it ultimately it suggests you’d ideally be best disposed to have both, this does suggest that old idiom about the imprudence of taking a knife to a gunfight is wrong.
Good news for Hyundai, then. That’s exactly what it’s doing with the i30 N.
Crafted by some of the best German hands in the business – surely you know Hyundai’s rocket programme has its own von Braun –the i30 N is, on paper, nonetheless a bit like that secondary blade on a Swiss army knife. Sharp enough to annoy, but hardly likely to grievously wound.
That engine. Turbocharged 1998cc four cylinder. That’s not exceptional. Outputs, ditto. Few have more torque, others more power.
That gearbox. I’m personally not adverse to a good manual; this one’s fine. However, the market says DSG or nothing, so Hyundai would do itself a favour by fast-tracking one.
Further visual inspection might well leave you struggling to understand why Hyundai calls this its first car for the true enthusiast. The lowering improves the stance and the sporting add-ons look good – those 19-inch rims are snappy and the rear wing so beautifully integrated you’d swear it was part of the metalwork– but the start-point shape is quiet, so unavoidably it’s not massively expressive.
Same goes inside. The heavily bolstered sports seats and a chunky steering wheel raise interest; yet you’re as likely to notice the hard, scratchy plastics.
This sense of quiet innocence is entirely a ruse. Idea of what sort of predator this really is begins with a barking start-up. The burbling idle is strong and there’s pop and crackle from another setting.
This isn’t shoutiness for show. An engine that began life in a Sonata sedan retains enough civility for around-town saunter, but only just. Give the throttle any decent weight and the character changes entirely; bye bye nice. Time for nasty.
The initial attitude is affected by the drive mode setting. Normal itself is quite feisty, but Sport is the one. There’s an Eco, too, just to prove the engineers have a sense of humour.
About them. The team under Albert Biermann, former architect of some decent BMW M cars (and who, as head of High Performance Development can take credit for Kia’s Stinger, too), hasn’t strayed much from the contemporary hot hatch template.
Yet electing (unsurprisingly) the Golf GTI as their benchmark – not the regular one, but the sweet 40th year edition – was a challenge. They had to change just about everything. So they did.
An electronically controlled differential reinforces that N is more about driving than posing.
Diving into options that personalise just about everything mechanical can affect the ferocity. There’s a total of 1944 possible combinations to get the car exactly to taste. A week wasn’t long enough, so I hit the button emblazoned with a chequered flag and hoped for the best. This activates N mode, which enacts settings for Nurburgring’s Nordschliefe. Hit it twice and you can alter the extreme dynamics to your liking, just like … gosh, that’s right … an M3.
Hyundai suggests using N on the road is irresponsible.
They’re right but I’ve been called worse. True, the ride is borderline chiropractic, the engine response manic. It’s crazy, but has to be so. Hot is either hot or it’s not. So, this is your pocket knife with a surprise feature of a Croc Dundee bowie blade. For use when someone in a Focus ST or Megane RS gives lip.
N mode isn’t the X-ingredient. There’s something better. That this car so sublimely directs its fight to the road, never the driver, is not just down to its technology. It’s been touched by human greatness. They say the i30 is the first front-drive car Biermann oversaw. If that’s the case, I can’t wait to discover how the second will feel.
The i30 N has been in a local holding pattern; supply is tight, every market wants it. But Hyundai NZ says signoff is close and is adamant pricing will be highly competitive.
Let’s hope. The locals would be mad not to go to the Nth degree; the factory crazy not to create more of this.
Talk, then, about a i30 N hyper-hatch with all-wheel drive, already previewed by a wild 280kW/450Nm R30 concept, has got to be good for the Seoul.
We’ve driven the i30 N on New Zealand roads, but it’s not on sale here ...yet.